Down By Law - All In (Cover Artwork)

Down By Law

All In (2018)

Cleopatra records

On their 11th full-length, titled All In, Down By Law return with the same revered lineup from their 1994 breakthrough album, punkrockacademyfightsong. After a few decades of member shuffling, label jumping, and extended breaks, it’s back to basics on All In.

While they may not have been one of the originators of the classic California skate punk sound, DBL certainly are one of its top executors. And while the bulk of any mainstream success achieved in the genre was reserved for bands like Bad Religion and The Offspring, DBL has never completely gone away; always influential, always a big part of the conversation.

“Aperture” starts thing off with a nostalgic tale of the good ol’ days, of late night shows, driving all night, and childhood dreams. In a rather ironically fitting way, next up is a track called “Boredom”, a confessional of daily ennui suitable for an early Black Flag record. Sure, Dave Smalley may be in his 50’s, but take it from me, kids: if you think being a teenager is boring, wait till you hit middle age.

The slow jam “Carousel” drops hints of psychedelia, both musically and by just actual mention of the word. Trippy flanged guitars stay toward the back so as not to dominate, but come forward just long enough to let Dave’s skills as lead axe-man shine. “End of Rhyme” is an assertion of the insecure lovability that’s in anyone who’s ever felt a little left of the dial. Smalley’s clever word play and, again, great guitar work, make this one of the standouts of the whole album.

A song like “Undone” comes unexpectedly. At nearly five minutes long, one might expect a little more texture. But the song repeats the same structure throughout, begging the question of whether something could have been cut. While I like the song, and the added horn section is a welcome nuance, I can see it possibly being a little divisive. That being said, it does kick off what turns out to be the even better second half of the record. “Then and Tomorrow” is a very sweet and good-hearted romance ballad, followed by the nervous, jumpy fun of “Infatuation”.

The uplifting free spirit of “Ride” reminds me of what is possibly my favorite DBL song, “The Cool Crowd” from 1997’s Last Of the Sharpshooters, in a very good way. While “Ride” isn’t a revisitation of the same song, hearing a band be consistent with a message, while not beating a dead horse, gives the longtime listener familiarity and comfort. The curtain falls with “Dear Fate”, a crafty and tender introspective number that might just be the best song Evan Dando wishes he wrote.

Down By Law never had to be the loudest or fastest band in the world. Dave Smalley’s power as a frontman comes from his understated nature. He has a pleasant voice that doesn’t need to be overly exerted, and his whip-smart way with words conveys a charming balance of humor and tenderness. The band has always retained their straightforward, tightly woven brand of skate punk, and All In is no different. There are some subtle production shades that are there just to make pop what needs to pop. Overall, it comes out sounding fantastic. Fans of any era of Down By Law will not be disappointed.